The pandemic forever transformed how museums operate, creating massive financial and psychological stress for institutions.
Nearly half, or 47 percent, of 710 museum directors surveyed by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and Seattle-based research firm Wilkening Consulting, said they plan to rehire and/or increase staff size throughout the rest of the year. The finding released today are based on data collected between December 8, 2021, and January 20, for the fourth iteration of a survey to assess the impacts of COVID-19 on museums in the United States.
“Like many other areas of society, the museum field is unlikely to ever return to the exact same way we operated pre-pandemic. Depending on how the pandemic continues to evolve and the financial support museums are able to secure, we’re hoping to see our field bounce back financially in three to five years,” Laura Lott, AAM president and CEO, said via email.
Since 2019, 12 percent of museums reported increasing their staff by an average of 30 percent, 37 percent reported having decreased staff by an average of 28 percent, and 51 percent reported no change.
In April of 2021, fewer than half, 44 percent, of museums reported that they had not furloughed or laid off any staff since the start of the pandemic, 22 percent said they laid off full-time staff, and 28 percent laid off part- time staff.
As of the new survey, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of museum directors said they were able to retain or restore all of their staff, buoyed by federal relief funds.
More than half (56 percent) of museums recruiting for job openings reported difficulty filling open positions, primarily in guest services, admissions, frontline, and retail roles, as well as facilities maintenance, security and education,
Fourteen percent of directors said they have relied on or intend to rely on contract labor in place of in-house staff, and 2 percent said they would use less contract labor in place of in-house staff.
The vast majority, 81 percent, of museum directors said they are permitting some staff to work remotely. More than half (51 percent) of executive level employees, half of marketing and communications, 44 percent of curatorial, collections, exhibitions, and publication staff, 43 percent of those working in development, 42 percent in finance and administration, and 41 percent of education staff, were given the remote working option. Just 6 percent of museums allowed or encouraged guest services, admissions, frontline, and retail staff to telework, and 4 percent permitted facilities, maintenance, and security staff to work remotely. Since March 2020, museums had been closed to the public for an average of twenty-eight weeks due to the pandemic.
Museums rely heavily on volunteers to maintain operations by playing vital roles such as tour guides, docents, and greeters, as well as helping with maintenance or serving as informational exhibitions hosts. Seventy percent of museums said they suspended or downsized volunteer programs during the pandemic, with nearly half (48 percent) struggling to engage enough volunteers.
At the time of the survey, 12 percent of museums surveyed remained closed to the public, with 32 percent of shuttered museums unsure when they would reopen, and 28 percent planning to reopen in May 2022.
The majority (60 percent) of museums reported pandemic-related financial losses since March 2020, at an average hit of more than $791,000.
Looking ahead, museum directors remain worried about the pandemic and future variant of COVID-19, as well as the sluggish recovery of travel and tourism, and a shortage of skilled labor further impeding business strategies over the next 12 months.